Sustainability, Silo's and the Edge

4 December 2019
Your data centre won’t remain the centre of your data. Key observations from the Gartner Symposium 2019.
Sustainability, Silo's and the Edge

Last month I attended the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo in Barcelona. Billed as ‘The World’s Most Important Gathering of CIOs and IT Executives™’ it provided me with some revealing insights on the opportunities and challenges for data centres, and those that operate and use them in a rapidly evolving digital economy. I’ll share some of my thoughts here. Part one looks at some of the more technical insights, and part two will suggest some business and market structural views. But before that, let’s start with some general observations.

I was quite shocked that throughout the conference the focus on sustainability was very limited to say the least. With climate crisis dominating the news around the world, and with increasing scrutiny coming to bear on IT in general, and cloud and data centre contributions to emissions specifically, I thought it worrying that the topic did not get more coverage.

That said, Microsoft chose to highlight a data centre sustainability project as one of only four examples presented on how they incorporate their values into their projects. Alysa Taylor described data centre energy consumption and footprint as one of the biggest challenges ahead. Microsoft launched the “bold” Project Natick with the objective of reducing the environmental impact of the data centre. Using submarine technology, it submerged a pilot datacentre off the coast of Scotland. I truly believe we need many more of these initiatives to find ways to tackle the growing energy consumption on the back of the exponential increase in data centre capacity demand. Another option, where feasible, could be considering locating your data center in the Nordics.

Beyond that, it was obvious that data privacy remains very high on the agenda for a CIO with regulation and legal risks driving thinking around how and where to store and process data. Interestingly, on a related note, recent reports debated at the event suggested that ‘Moving to the cloud’ isn’t actually moving your traditional IT to the cloud, but rather expanding your capabilities by leveraging the cloud – the majority of the ‘stuff’ in the cloud is actually born there, and the old ‘stuff’ hasn’t (entirely) died.

Part One – the new demands on the data centre
It’s clear that we are still just on the brink of an exponential growth curve in data and data transmission. Primarily driven by AI, IoT, and machine learning, as well as ongoing digitization of enterprises and society, this explosion in data will impact bandwidth, storage and compute capacity and change the way data centres are designed and deployed.

Standardisation of IT-systems to leverage the benefits of the public clouds will help enterprises to capitalise on the opportunities these new technologies are creating, while at the same time managing cost. However, there will still be a significant number of systems, applications and workloads which are high in both complexity and value to the business. These systems cannot be deployed and run from in the cloud. For many reasons, including cost, access to expertise, technological advances and requirements for specialist power, cooling, management and security, colocation will remain the best solution. Add in the data privacy perspective to the equation and there is a promising bright future for the colocation market.

Your data centre won’t remain the centre of your data. 
We are at the very beginning of a shift from a ‘download world’ to an ‘upload world’ as data generation will increasingly be done closer to the end user. As an illustration of the ‘old world’, think of your WiFi-router at home. Usually it has significantly higher capacity for downloading data than uploading. Historically end users have been downloading data from a central point such as a data centre. But, the massive projected growth in IoT and edge computing will shift this paradigm towards a world where vast amounts of data is generated by the end user and at the edge.

So how will this affect the data centre? Well, first of all we need to understand that the edge is not replacing the data centre but rather augmenting it. Gartner predicts that by 2025 75% of enterprise data will be generated outside the cloud or the data centre (as it will be created at the edge). But, much of this data is ‘noisy’ and the lifespan of that data is extremely short (seconds). The meta data derived from the edge generated data can, on the other hand, be extremely valuable leading to new insights and identifying new business opportunities. To perform powerful analytics that meta data will still most likely reside in the data centre. So perhaps your data centre won’t be the centre of your data, but your data centre will be the repository for your most business critical and valuable data. Something that further emphasises the importance of having a fit for purpose, secure and highly available data centre.

As you’d expect from a Gartner event there were many other predictions and views on the future of technology. But perhaps more interesting was the discussion around the business of IT and I’ll share my thoughts on this in part 2.

By Christoffer Hillbom, Head of Sales Operations

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